When I first got here, I was curious to see what Ecuadorian food would taste like. I knew from my sister’s experiences that it would involve a whole lot of carbs and not a whole lot of spiciness. I anticipated lots of potatoes and rice. To be perfectly honest, during my first couple months here I thought that Ecuadorian food was decent, but kinda on the boring side. I liked the potatoes, rice, chicken, and soup well enough, but once the novelty wore off, I missed variety. I craved the explosion of different flavors you can find in cuisines in the States–the marriage of the spicy-sweetness of Thai food, the perfection found in a steak marinated and grilled outside on a summer day, the limey cilantro deliciousness of Mexican food, mom’s homemade baked meatloaf…I could go on. Basically, I missed the complexity of flavors I could find so easily at home.
Yet seven months in, I realize I have developed a deeper love for Andean Ecuadorian food. I have come to crave the almuerzos with their sopa-pollo-arroz-maduro-jugo-postre combinations (okay maybe not the plantain. But you get the idea). And almost two months into living on my own, with the ability to cook my own food, I find myself oftentimes gravitating towards more Ecuadorian-style meals. While I still miss other types of foods and flavors, and though I still make my own Thai or Mexican food occasionally, I have come to appreciate the simplicity and wholeness of Ecuadorian dishes. Ecuadorian food is generally NOT processed at all, uses almost entirely fresh ingredients, and tends to be very low in fat. It’s also cheaper to cook in this way than it is to make elaborate other types of food, so cooking like an Ecuadorian is both healthy and pragmatic. I wanted to dedicate this blog entry to sharing a little bit of Ecuadorian food through a traditional recipe that I’ve learned in my time here for anyone who is curious enough to learn about what I’m eating on a regular basis and to get a “taste” of Ecuador. Lots of photos included!
Seco de pollo
What is it? Chicken cooked in a tomato-y, soupy bath with veggies. You can find this in most restaurants throughout the city; it’s probably the most common lunch dish available. It varies slightly place to place, but essentially has the same ingredients. Simple and delicious, this dish should please even the pickiest eaters.
When do you eat it? Since lunch is typically the largest meal of the day here, we would make this in the late morning or early afternoon in order to eat it for the main dish of lunch at around 1 or 2 pm. My host family would also reheat it in smaller amounts for dinner in the evenings (la merienda).
What do you eat it with? Generally served as the plato fuerte with a heaping plate of rice and perhaps a small side salad or plantain. Or slice of tomato.
How do you prepare it?**
- 2 c. water
- a few slices of red onion, minced
- one clove minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt (but more added throughout process, so to taste)
- 6 small, 2-inch potatoes of the papa chola variety, or whatever can be found at a market near you
- 1/2 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 chicken breast, with or without skin, with bone
- 4 medium red tomatoes
- 1/3 c. frozen peas
- 1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
1. Start by mincing the slices of red onion and the garlic. Throw those into a large pot with the 2 cups of water and your salt. While that starts to heat, chop the chicken into bite sized pieces (we used breast, but you can use any part you prefer). Save the bone. You should also prepare the tomatoes at this time. Cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the stem part at the end. Add the chicken and the tomatoes at the same time, including the bone for flavor. Let this entire mixture boil for about 10-15 minutes, removing tomato skins naturally as they begin to fall off. Keep burner on high throughout process.
2. Next, prepare the carrots and potatoes. The potatoes need to be peeled and chopped into quarters. Chop the carrot in half, and save half for later. Chop the remaining half into 1 or 2 inch pieces. Add the potatoes and carrots at the same time. Let these cook uncovered for another 10 minutes or so, keeping heat high and letting excess water evaporate.
3. After the potatoes and carrots have softened a bit, add the frozen peas. You can also use dried peas, but if you use dried peas, you will need to add these earlier (ie: when you put in the initial garlic and onion!). Continue cooking on high, uncovered, for another 10-15 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are ready to eat.
4. When the potatoes are soft, and the water has boiled down significantly, smash about 1/4 of them. This gives the sauce a little thicker consistency. Add the cilantro at the end of the cooking, maybe 5-10 minutes before you serve the dish. At the end, remove the chicken bone.
5. Serve with a mountain of rice, freshly made juice, and, if you’re American, a steamed veggie. ¡Buen provecho!
This is just one of many traditional Andean Ecuadorian dishes that I have learned how to prepare in my time here. You also really need to put some ají on that rice…maybe a recipe for that will follow 😉 Stay tuned for more!
**This recipe came from cooking with my boyfriend and his mom. They don’t have any recipes written down, so I worked with Gonza to estimate amounts and times.